The Queen’s Hats and a Couple of Crowns

Queen Elizabeth II has generally not been known in the past years for her fashion style.  But that changed when in 1994 when Angela Kelly was named the Queen’s personal dresser, you could say she is the royal stylist.  Since that time the Queen’s wardrobe seems to have undergone a fashion transformation with more tailored dresses and coats made in solid pastels or bold primary colors or sometimes the dresses are made in fabric with simple patterns. But the outfits are always accessorized with sensible shoes and the ever present handbag (I am still wondering what is in that handbag!).  To complete the fashion ensemble, the Queen will wear pieces from her personal jewelry collection.  During the day, the Queen will usually wear a hat specifically made to match the dress that she is wearing.  On more formal occasions the Queen will wear one of the spectacular crowns from the Royal Jewelry Collection.

In this post I will discuss the many hats of Queen Elizabeth, but let’s start when she was a young Princess.  Shown below in the photo on the left is the infant Elizabeth sitting in her pram wearing a lacy bonnet.  Then, at the age of 11 years old her father unexpectedly became King George VI and the young Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret wore specially made golden coronets to the coronation as shown below in the photo on the right. 

Princess Elizabeth in baby bonnet  Princess Elizabeth - coronet for King George VI coronation   

As the years passed, Princess Elizabeth grew into a lovely young women.  Shown in the photo on the left she is wearing the uniform and hat of the Girl Guide in 1942.  Then, during World War II, Princess Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service as a truck mechanic and she is shown in the photo on the right wearing the uniform and hat of the ATS.

Princess Elizabeth - Girl Guide uniform  Princess Elizabeth-1942 ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Services) uniform

On the occasion of Princess Elizabeth wedding to Prince Phillip on November 20, 1947 she wore a beautiful embroidered ivory silk duchess wedding gown designed by Norman Hartnell.   To complete her wedding ensemble, Princess Elizabeth wore a silk tulle veil held in place with the diamond King George III Fringe Tiara. Unfortunately, on the wedding day the frame of the tiara broke in half but luckily the royal jeweler was quickly called in to make the repair before the ceremony.  Shown below is a photo of Princess Elizabeth on her wedding day.  (For more information about her wedding to Prince Phillip, please click on the link to British Royal Weddings – Part Three.  Also, for more detailed information about Prince Elizabeth’s wedding dress and her other bridal accessories that she wore on her wedding day, please click on the link to British Royal Wedding Dresses – Part Two)

Princess Elizabeth Wedding

Shown below in the photos is Princess Elizabeth at the christening of her first two children.  On the left is a photo on the occasion of Prince Charles’ christening in 1948 and she is wearing a red-orange dress with a matching hat with a large bow and netting.  On the right is a photo of her at the christening of Princess Anne in 1950 and she is wearing a light blue print dress and a matching blue velvet hat decorated a rather unusual fringe accent (sort-of like a blue whisk broom!)

1948 -  Princess Elizabeth with her first baby Prince Charles at Christening 1  1950 -  Princess Elizabeth with Princess Anne at her christening 2

In 1952, upon the death of her beloved father, Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II.  For her June 2, 1953 coronation Queen Elizabeth wore another beautiful and intricately embroidered white silk gown specially designed for the occasion by Norman Hartnell.  During the most solemn part of the coronation ceremony, Queen Elizabeth was crowned with the St. Edward’s Crown.  (For more detailed information regarding the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, please click on the link)

Queen Elizabeth coronation 1

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Queen often wore hats with floral accents designed by the Pennsylvania-based milliner Sally Victor who owned one the largest millinery companies in America.  Shown below are some examples of those hats.

1960s - 1970s - Queen Elizabeth Hats

For the Investiture of her son, Prince Charles, as the Prince of Wales on July 1, 1969 at Caernarfon Castle the Queen wore a hat which caused some controversy when she chose to wear it instead of a crown, the Welsh people felt that the important ceremony warranted it.  Although the hat created by milliner Simone Mirman did match her pale yellow dress, it was a Tudor-inspired hat with two rather large pieces covering her ears.  Mirman had often worked closely throughout the years with the designer Hartnell who was a favorite dress maker of the Queen.      

1969 Prince Charles Investiture

An annual event held at St. George’s Chape at Windsor Castle is the Order of the Garter Ceremony.  For this event which is held every year in mid-June the Queen and other members of the Order wear special robes and accessories.  One of those items is the Garter Hat styled as a Tudor Bonnet, a traditional soft crowned round brimmed cap made in black velvet and trimmed with a white ostrich plume and black heron feathers.  Attached to the hat is a badge of the heraldic shield of St. George which is encircled by the Garter of the Order.  (For more detailed information at the Order of the Carter Ceremony, please click on the link)

Queen Elizabeth - Order of the Garter Hat

Another annual event which is also held in June is the five-day horse race known as Royal Ascot.  The Queen and other female members of the royal family, along with the public , that attend the event, take the opportunity to select specially decorated hats.  Shown below are some photos of the hats that the Queen has worn in past years.

Queen Elizabeth - Ascot Hat 4  Queen Elizabeth - Ascot Hat 3  Queen Elizabeth - Ascot Hat 5
Queen Elizabeth - Ascot Hat 1  Queen Elizabeth - Ascot Hat 2

Queen Elizabeth has had several milliners throughout the years that have made thousands of hats. Along with the two milliners previously mentioned, the Queen has had hats created in the past by the British milliner Frederick Fox, Marie O’Reagan of the London College of Fashion and the Danish milliner Aage Thaarup.  Since the 1980s through to his retirement in 2008, the New Zealand born but London-based Philip Somerville had the distinction of being the Royal Milliner.  Somerville was known for his use of unusual fabrics and trimming made in vibrant colors.  Most recently the Irish milliner Philip Treacy designed the hat that the Queen wore to the wedding of her grandson Prince William to Kate Middleton, this hat is shown in the photo below.

Queen Elizabeth - wedding of Prince William and Kate 1

When a milliner is creating a hat for the Queen there are a couple of important things to consider, such as the style and the fit.  The Queen’s hat needs to serve several purposes.  The first is that it covers the Queen’s head eliminating the need for constant hair touch-ups during the day which is usually scheduled with several engagements and appearances at various functions.  The second purpose of wearing a hat is that it covers the Queen’s head to protect her from any weather conditions, such as glaring sun or a sudden rain shower (although lately the Queen had begun to use a clear umbrella with a color coordinated stripe to match her clothing).  Finally, the third purpose of wearing a hat is that is a fashion opportunity to add an extra decorative accessory to the Queen’s outfit. 

When traveling to different countries, the style of the hat will take into consideration the culture and customs of the country that the Queen is visiting.  An example shown in the photos below is when the Queen has visited the Pope at the Vatican she will wear a mantilla to cover her head.  The photo on the left shows the Queen with Pope John Paul II wearing a crown with the mantilla and the photo on the shows the Queen several years later with Pope John Paul II wearing a hat with a mantilla attached.  

Queen Elizabeth - crown and mantilla worn on visit to Pope John Paul II  Queen Elizabeth - hat and mantilla worn on visit to Pope John Paul II 

Finally, when the Queen is at a public engagement, she needs to be able to see the people and they need to see her.  So, when creating a hat the milliner needs to make sure that the brim is not so large that it will cover the Queen’s face.  Also, the upper portion of the hat needs to be a proper height so that the Queen can enter/exit her vehicle without hitting the hat and knocking it out of place on her head.                  

Queen Victoria’s Daughters

In part one of the series on the children of Queen Victoria’s children I discussed her four sons including Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward VII).  In part two, I will discuss their five daughters.  The Queen had a very uneasy relationship with her children that ranged from showing them a minimum amount of affection when they were infants, controlling their education through private tutors as they were small children and finally as young adults selecting their future marriage partners aimed at furthering her political plans for England.  Throughout the years, the Queen wrote letters to her children almost constantly not only to inquire about their personal lives and she also to voice her very strong opinions about all aspects of their lives.  Many of the daughters, especially after the death of the Queen’s beloved husband, felt it was their duty to be a daily companion to their mother and often acted as nursemaid or personal secretary.

So, let’s take a look at Queen Victoria’s daughters …

Princess Victoria Adelaiede (future German Empress and Queen of Prussia)
born – November 21, 1840 at Buckingham Palace in London
died – August 5, 1901 at Castle Friedrichshof in Germany

Princess Victoria was the first child and eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert.  She was christened in the Throne Room of Buckingham Palace and she is named in honor of both her mother, Queen Victoria and her maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.  For the special occasion of the birth of her first child, the Queen commissioned a special silver baptismal font made by Barnard & Co. decorated with the symbol of the lily to represent purity and new life.  The Queen Victoria also commissioned a lovely christening gown made with Honiton lace and lined in white satin, it has a very long skirt with an elaborate collar and bow.  (Historical Fact: Since 1841 over 60 royal children have worn the gown for their christenings including four Kings, King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.  The original robe was very old and fragile so in 2008, to preserve the historical garment, an exact replica was made by the Queen’s dresser, Angela Kelly.  Most recently the replicated christening gown has been worn by Prince George in 2013 and Princess Charlotte in 2015)

Princess Victoria - christening

Victoria was the heiress presumptive (the person entitled to inherit a throne but whose position can be displaced by the birth of an heir apparent) until her brother, Prince Albert Edward, was born the next year.  At that time, the Queen gave Victoria the title of HRH the Princess Royal, a grand name for a one year old but the family called her “Vicky”.

Victoria was her father’s favorite child and he felt that her intelligent nature warranted her education by tutors alongside her brother in subjects such as: mathematics, literature, history, science, Latin, French and German.  Unfortunately, Victoria turned out to be the better student than her brother!  This only added to Prince Albert’s pride in his daughter’s accomplishments and the two became very close discussing politics and current events, this situation greatly distressed the Queen and she was extremely jealous of the close relationship between father and daughter.

Since the Queen controlled all aspects of her children’s personal lives, by the time Victoria was 10 years old it was arranged that would met her future husband at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  He was Prince Frederick William of Prussia and he was second in line to inherit the Prussian throne, this alliance was a calculated move in which the Queen hoped to strengthen the political connections between the two countries.  By 1955, Victoria and Frederick were engaged but the public announcement was delayed for a few years because Victoria was only fourteen years old and Frederick was twenty-four.  Finally, after a long wait, their engagement was officially announced in 1857.

Princess Victoria - wedding

Princess Victoria - wedding dressAt the insistence of the Queen, the wedding of Victoria and Frederick took place in England on January 25, 1858 at the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace in London.  In 1861, Frederick’s father became King William I of Prussia, Frederick and Victoria were now the Crown Prince and Crown Princess.  The couple went on to have a very happy marriage based on true love and mutual respect; they had eight children – Wilhelm (the future German Emperor), Charlotte, Henry, Sigmund, Viktoia, Waldemar, Sophia and Margaret.

During the early years of their marriage, Victoria was having a hard time adjusting to life in a foreign country and she was being encouraged through letters sent by the Queen and occasional visits home to England not forget her British heritage.  (Over 3,700 letters from the Queen to Victoria and over 4,000 letters from Victoria to the Queen have been preserved in the British Royal Archives which were secretly smuggled out of Germany after her death to avoid them being destroyed)

Sadly, after the difficult breech birth in 1859 of their first son, Wilhelm, it was soon discovered that he born with severe paralysis of his left arm which greatly upset Victoria.  This would be a foreboding sign that Wilhelm was to cause his mother’s life to be filled with many more difficulties.  In regards to his education and military training, Victoria was determined that he would have lessons by private tutors that would be brought over from England but Otto von Bismarck, the powerful Prussian minister, was equally set on German tutors.  Bismarck would ultimately succeed with his plan and over the following years the young Wilhelm would ultimately become alienated from his own parents and favor the opinions of Bismarck.

Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia

With the death of Frederick’s father in 1888, he became the Emperor Frederick III and Victoria became the Empress of Prussia, their son was now Crown Prince Wilhelm.  Unfortunately, Frederick was already terminally ill with throat cancer at the time of his ascension and died after only 99 days on the throne, his son was now the Emperor.  Guided by Bismarck, one of the first things that Wilhelm did was to immediately banish the widowed Victoria to live at the Castle Friedrichshof located in the hills near Frankfurt.  By this time, Victoria had lost her father in 1861 and following the example of her mother’s intense mourning, after the death of her own husband she dressed in black for the rest of her life.  The widowed Victoria built a satisfying life at Castle Friedrichshof and she continued her civic work in Berlin by establishing a training school for nurses and also as a patron of the arts helping to organize the 1872 Industrial Art Exhibition.

Empress Victoria 1

In 1899, while visiting her mother at Balmoral, Victoria was feeling ill and the British doctors soon determined a diagnose of breast cancer.  Sadly, upon her return to Germany later 1900, the cancer had spread to her spine and she died on August 5, 1901 at Castle Friedrichshof, she is buried in the royal mausoleum at the Friedenskircheat Postdam.

Princess Alice Maud (later Grand Duchess of Hesse)
born – April 25, 1843 at Buckingham Palace in London
died – December 11, 1878 at the New Palace, Darmstadt in Hesse

Princess Alice was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Her name was chosen by the Queen because it was Lord Melbourne, her first Prime Minister, favorite female name and Maud was also chosen to honor Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, one of Alice’s godparents.  To accommodate their growing family and to escape London during the summer months, after the birth of Alice Victoria and Albert purchased Osborne House located on Isle of Wight, it soon became a favorite retreat for the Queen and her family.

Like her siblings, Alice was educated with private tutors in English, French and German and other basic subjects.  She was also taught practical skills that would include sewing and knitting, housekeeping, cooking and gardening.  Although Alice was content with her family life she was intrigued by the daily lives of the average people outside the Palace walls.  In fact, during the Crimean War, the eleven year old Alice accompanied the Queen when she went to the London hospitals to visit the wounded soldiers.  Alice grew into a compassionate and sympathetic young adult with an interest in medicine and caring for patients.

Alice’s nursing skills proved to be a comfort to her father when he fell ill with typhoid fever in 1861 and she was constantly at his bedside caring for him until his death.  (Although the initial cause of death was believed to be typhoid fever, recent history indicates that Prince Albert had been ill for at least two years possibly suffering from abdominal cancer)  After her father’s death, the Queen went into an intense period of mourning and for the next few months she relied heavily on Alice to act not only as her own nursemaid attending to her constant care but also her personal secretary dealing with the Queen’s correspondence and daily paperwork.  This was a very difficult time in Alice’s life because not only had she lost a father but she was dealing with the increasing demands of her distraught mother.

Princess Alice

Perhaps out of despair and exhaustion living in an oppressive home of deep mourning Alice went forward with her engagement to Prince Louis of Hesse, this union had been approved by Prince Albert before his death.  Alice and Louis were married on July 1, 1862 in a private ceremony at Osborne House; it was a very solemn occasion which seemed to forewarn the possibility of future trouble within her marriage.  (Historical Note:  As a wedding present to Alice, the Queen gave her a gold, diamond and pearl bracelet with an unusual inscription that read in part “… from your loving parents … who though visibly parted are ever united …”.  A strange message to be be given on the occasion of a wedding, but the Queen was always thinking of her problems!)    Alice and Louis went on to have seven children – Victoria, Elisabeth, Irene, Ernest, Fredrick, Alexandra and Marie.

Princess Alice in her wedding dress

Now living in Darmstadt during the Austro-Prussian War, Alice became more heavily involved with the nursing profession and she developed a great interest in the work of Florence Nightingale (an English social reformer and considered the founder of modern nursing techniques).  It has been said that the Queen (dare I say, a prude!) was deeply concerned about her daughter’s exposure to various aspects of medical care and in particular gynecological matters.  Sadly, Alice’s youngest son had recently been diagnosed hemophilia when he accidentally fell from a window at their home and ultimately died from internal bleeding, it has been said that Alice never recovered from the death of her favorite son.  (Historical Fact:  The hemophilia disease has been traced back to Queen Victoria.  Besides affecting not only her son, Leopold, she unknowingly passed the disease onto future generations through Alice but also through her other daughter Beatrice)

Princess Alice with husband and child

Then in 1877, upon the death of his father, Louis became the Grand Duke of Hesse and Alice was now the Grand Duchess.  Alice, perhaps still distraught over the death of her young son, had become increasingly worried about her own minor personal health issues, her marital problems with her seemingly disinterested husband and the ongoing problems of an extremely difficult relationship with her controlling mother.  Alice was also distressed that despite her involvement with the social and cultural activities she continued to have a difficult time being accepted by the people of Hesse, this was a problem very similar to her older sister Victoria troubles in Prussia.

Princess Alice and her husband

In November 1878, several members of the Grand Duke and Duchess family became ill with diphtheria.  Victoria was the first of the children to be diagnosed followed by Alexandra, Marie, Irene, Ernest and even the Grand Duke became infected with the disease.  Elizabeth was the only child not to be affected by the illness because Alice had the forethought to send her away to stay with mother-in-law.  After Marie died Alice broke a strict rule of no physical contact with the patients and embraced her son, Ernest, to comfort him upon hearing the news about the death of his sister.  As a result Alice became seriously ill with the diphtheria and she died on December 11, 1878; she was the first of Queen Victoria’s children to die.  Alice is buried at the Grand Ducal mausoleum at Rosenhohe near Darmstadt and as a final salute to her English heritage the British flag was draped over her coffin at her funeral.

Princess Helena Augusta (later Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein
born – May 25, 1846 at Buckingham Palace in London
died – June 9, 1823 at Schomberg House in London

Princess Helena was the fifth child and third daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Like many of her other siblings, Helena was christened at the private chapel in Buckingham Palace.  She soon became known as Lenchen within her family, a name shortened from the German Helenchen.   

Helena was educated by private tutors arranged by her father and she soon proved her artistic skills when she began drawing, this brought the Queen great pleasure because she was also an accomplished amateur artist.  Also noticed at that time, was Helena’s excellent needlework skills (she went on later in her adult life to promote the art of needlework and in 1872 became the first president of the Royal School of Needlework).

Princess Helene 2

Then, with the death of Prince Albert, her father, the royal household fell into a deep mourning period prompted by the intensely grieving Queen Victoria.  The once happy home with children playing and laughing was drastically changed into a somber house where any type of outward joy or happiness was greatly stifled by the Queen.  Maybe out of rebellion or to bring some excitement in her life, Helena began a mild flirtation with Carl Ruland, the Royal librarian, he also taught German to the Royal children.  Of course when the Queen found out about this fledgling romance she quickly dismissed him and he returned to Germany.  (Nothing every escaped the watchful eyes of Queen Victoria!)

As with all her children, the Queen looked for a prospective marriage partner for Helena.   But unlike her older siblings who married into prominent European Royalty, the Queen stipulated that Helena and her future husband would be required to live in England and remain available to tend to the Queen’s needs whenever she wished.  The Queen’s unusual choice was Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, which was an area in Europe that was at the time being fought over between Prussia and Denmark.  (Historical Note: This caused great friction with the family because the Prince of Wales’ wife was from Denmark and Princess Victoria was married to the Crown Prince of Prussia.  Queen Victoria ruled over not only England, but her decisions regarding her family were ultimately always obeyed)  

Princess HelenaPrincess Helene  in wedding dress

The wedding of Helena and Christian took place on July 5, 1866 in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle and despite the family disagreements everyone attended the ceremony.  The royal couple, abiding by the Queen’s personal request, moved into Frogmore House and later Cumberland Lodge.  They had five children – Christian Victor, Albert, Helena Victoria, Marie and Harald who died in infancy.    

Princess Helene with her husband 2  Princess Helene with children 

During her marriage, Helena continued to work as patron of several charities and she was a founding member of the Red Cross and later served as president of the Royal British Nurses Association.  Helena and Christian were granted an annual allowance, per the request of the Queen, and Christian also held the position of as the Ranger of Windsor Park and the High Steward of Windsor.  Helena was often called upon by the Queen performed personal duties for her as secretary alongside her younger sister, Beatrice.

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, Helena began to distant herself from her siblings although she continued to support her eldest brother who was now King Edward VII.  She had a distant relationship with her nephew, now King George V.  She was to become the only child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that had lived to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary in 1916, sadly her husband died a year later.  Helena lived another six years and died on June 9, 1923 at Schomberg House in London.  She was initially interred at the Royal Vault in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle but later reburied at the Royal Burial Grounds at Frogmore.

Princess Helene 3

Princess Louise Caroline (later Duchess of Argyll)
born – March 18, 1848 at Buckingham Palace in London
died – December 3, 1939 at Kensington Palace in London

Princess Louise was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  She was christened in the Private Chapel in Buckingham Palace, her first name of Louise was chosen to honor Prince Albert’s mother.

Louise was brought up traveling with the Queen’s Court from Buckingham Palace to Windsor to Osborne to Balmoral and she enjoyed a relatively happy childhood.  She was educated by tutors alongside her siblings and she proved to be an intelligent student.  She was also trained in the practical skills which she would use later to aid her in managing her future martial household.  Louise developed her artistic skills as an accomplished sculptor and a noted artist creating many beautiful drawings.

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.Daughter of Queen Victoria (Died Dec 1939)

When her father, Prince Albert, died unexpectedly in 1861 the Queen fell into a deep period of mourning and the Queen secluded herself from public life alternating between staying in Osborne and Balmoral.  Surviving through this prolonged and intensely solemn time, when Louise was nearing her seventeenth birthday in 1865, she requested that a grand ball be held for her celebration but the Queen refused her request.  Then in 1866, when most young ladies were enjoying an active social life, the duty of being the Queen’s personal secretary and nursemaid fell to Louise after her older sisters were married and she actually excelled in the position.  Later, when Louise fell in love with the much older Reverend Robinson Duckworth, much like her sister Helena before her had a dalliance with another tutor; the Queen heard about the romance and quickly put an end to it.   

As the result, the Queen was soon looking for a prospective husband for the seemingly wild Louise with her progressive ideas about feminine liberation; she found one in John Campbell of Lorne and the heir to the Duke of Argyll.  Louise and John were married on March 21, 1871 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Princess Louise - wedding
Princess Louise in wedding dress 1

Within seven years, John was offered the position as Governor General in Ottawa, Canada.  The Queen was very pleased with this new appointment and hoped that this would continue to improve the political link between England and Canada.  John and Louise soon moved to Canada and took up residence in Rideau Hall which they decorated with Louise’s watercolor and oil paintings and also several of her sculptures.

Despite the difficulties adjusting to life in a new country Louise found joy in skating and sledging during the long winter months.  Unfortunately, in February of 1880, Louise and her husband were involved in a severe sleigh accident.  As a result, Louise suffered from a concussion and when the news ultimately reached the Queen many anxious letters were sent between mother and daughter during the recovery process.

In 1883, Louise and John returned to England and they moved into Kensington Palace in an apartment arranged by the Queen.  While John continued his political career, the couple was having ongoing marital problems and it was rumored that John was a homosexual while Louise was engaging in numerous affairs to compensate for the lack of a sexual relationship with her husband.  The Queen was very insistent that the couple remain married and divorce was not an option (at that time for a member of the royal family.

Princess Louise with her husband

After the death of the Queen in 1901, Louise fully enjoyed the seemingly loose moral of the Edwardian era with an active social life by traveling frequently and sometimes living separate from her husband alternating between their London residence at Kensington Palace with Kent House on the Osborne Estate.  Despite the emotional distance between the couple, Louise returned to take care of John as he became increasingly senile and was devastated with the death of her husband in 1914 from bronchial problem exacerbated by double pneumonia.

Afterwards, Louise spent her final years at Kensington Palace occasionally making public appearances.  She had lived through the reign of her mother Queen Victoria, her brother King Edward VII, her nephew King George V, and the brief reign of King Edward VIII shortly before he abdicated.  Louise died on December 3, 1939 at the age of 91.  She was cremated and her ashes were initially placed inside the Royal Crypt at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor then later moved to Frogmore.   

Princess Beatrice Mary (later Princess Henry of Battenberg)
born – April 14, 1857 at Buckingham Palace in London
died – October 26, 1944 at Brantridge Park in Sussex

Princess Beatrice was the youngest child and the fifth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and, like many of her siblings before her; she was christened in the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace.  Even though the Queen disliked babies, she was delighted with the infant Beatrice who became known to the family as “Baby”.  Beatrice grew into a beautiful child with stunning blue eyes and long blonde hair; she seemed to be an angel on earth in the eyes of the Queen and her husband. 

Four years after her birth, the Queen’s Royal household went through several traumatic events that came to greatly affect Beatrice and her entire family.  In March of 1861, the Queen’s mother died and then December of the same year Prince Albert suddenly died.  As a result the Queen feel into a deep and prolonged period of mourning that brought an intense and constant somber mood to the household.  As her older siblings married and left the royal residence, Beatrice was able to offer unconditional comfort to her mother and the Queen came to rely heavily on her for daily companionship.  Later as she became older, Beatrice assisted the Queen with her correspondence and general nursemaid.

Princess Beatrice - young

In 1878, upon the death of their sister Alice, the Prince of Wales proposed something rather unusual … that Beatrice should marry the widowed husband, the Grand Duke of Hesse.  He felt that this would be the solution in terms of the future upbringing of the Duke’s young children.  At the time it was against the law for a sibling to marry another sibling’s widower so to do this the British government needed to pass special legislation to grant approval, however the bill failed.

While attending the wedding in Germany, Beatrice met the groom’s brother, Prince Henry of Battenberg, and they quickly fell in love.  Upon realizing that if and when Beatrice married the Queen would lose her last daughter and her constant companion thereby being alone (how could a Queen ever be alone?)  Finally the Queen granted her permission but on the stipulation that after the wedding the couple would remain in England and move into the Queen’s house.

On July 23, 1885, Beatrice and Henry were married at Saint Mildred’s Church in Whippingham near Osborne.  Beatrice was the only one of the Queen’s five daughters to be given the honor of wearing their mother’s precious wedding veil of Honiton lace.  (Royal Note: Throughout the years Queen Victoria wore her wedding veil to the almost all of the christenings of her children, the exception was for Prince Albert Edward when she wore the Order of the Garter Robes as befitting the christening of the heir to the throne.  Later she wore it on the occasion of two of her children’s weddings, Princess Victoria and then Prince Leopold.  Finally, per her personal request, upon her death in 1901 the Queen was buried wearing her bridal veil)

The Battenbergs

After a brief honeymoon, the newly married couple returned as promised to live with the Queen and Beatrice resumed her work as the Queen personal secretary.  Henry and Beatrice were able to attain a truly happy marriage and their love proved to be as deep as that of her own parents.  The couple has four children – Alexander, Victoria Eugenie, Leopold and Maurice.

As the years passed, Beatrice’s work with the Queen proved to be very demanding and time consuming.  Henry became restless and in 1889 in response to this situation the Queen made him Governor of the Isle of Wight where Osborne House was located.  Eventually, Henry wished to serve in the military and finally in 1895, the Queen granted him permission to join the British forces fighting in the Anglo-Asante war.  Unfortunately, Henry contracted malaria while overseas and waiting to be sent home when he died on January 22, 1896. 

Beatrice was devastated in much the same way that her mother had been 35 years earlier when she lost her husband.  However, Beatrice spent only a brief month in mourning before returning to the constant demands of the Queen.  At this time, the Queen gifted Beatrice with an apartment in Kensington Palace; in fact it was the same set of rooms in which the Queen had occupied with her mother before her ascension to the throne.

NPG x32717; Queen Victoria; Princess Beatrice of Battenberg by Alexander Bassano

Five years later, Queen Victoria died and per the Queen’s request, Beatrice soon set upon the enormous task of transcribing and editing the massive volumes of her mother’s journals.  The journals were of great historical significance because the Queen had recorded within their pages her views on important political events and details of her daily life.  The journals also included the Queen’s personal information, perhaps expressing her true feelings about various events not only in her life before, during and after the death of her beloved Prince Albert but also about her relationships with her children.  Maybe it was for this reason that Beatrice seemed to do the unthinkable and in transcribing the journals and preparing them for publication she deleted private and sensitive passages in the final version because she felt there might be hurtful opinions toward any living person and then … she destroyed the original journals.  In the end, when Beatrice finished in 1931, there were 111 volumes of the edited journals that have now become part of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.  (This poses the question, what was in the original journals that Beatrice felt would be so detrimental to the history of England? It boggles the mind when you think of the important information that has been lost!)

As the years passed, Beatrice continued to make infrequent public appearances.  She lived mostly in her apartments at Kensington Palace and occasionally traveled to Osborne Cottage, her personal home on the Osborne Estate, until it was sold in 1913. On a personal note, Beatrice unfortunately passed on the hemophiliac disease onto future generations and those affected were her son Leopold and her grandson Alfonso.

Princess Beatrice - later

Beatrice died on October 26, 1944 at the age of 87 years old; she was the last of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s children to survive.  Her funeral took place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and she was initially buried in the Royal Vault before being moved a year later to the cemetery alongside her husband at St. Mildred’s Church in Whippingham, which was the site of her wedding to Henry 60 years earlier. 


Queen Victoria’s Sons

Queen Victoria reigned from June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901 as Queen of England and Ireland and later Empress of India (she had been the longest reigning monarch for 63 years and 216 days until Queen Elizabeth II broke the record in 2015 at 64 years and still counting!)  Throughout the years numerous history books have been written about Queen Victoria and how she influenced British traditions and customs at a time that later would become known as the Victorian Era.  Several books, some historical and others romance novels, have also been written about her relationship with her beloved husband, Prince Albert.  (For more information on life of Queen Victoria, please click on the link)

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their children

This two part series about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s nine children will try to answer the following questions – what was the Queen like as a mother and what happened to her children?  Part One will discuss her four sons and Part Two will be about her five daughters.  It has been said that when her children were young she treated them coldly without any affection and with little interest in their daily lives with the exception of their education.  Later, as the children became older, she controlled their personal lives and was determined to arrange their marriages not based on finding the best possible love match but to further her personal and political plans for England.  Perhaps her most difficult and problematic child was her eldest son, Prince Albert Edward, who was the heir to the throne.

So, let’s start by discussing the sons of Queen Victoria …

Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII)
born – November 9, 1841 at Buckingham Palace, London, England
died – May 6, 1910 at Buckingham Palace, London, England

Prince Albert Edward was the second child and eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was christened at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and received the name Albert to honor his father and Edward for his maternal grandfather but in the family he was known as Bertie.  He was the heir apparent in the British line of succession and just a month after his birth the Queen bestowed on him the title of the Prince of Wales (Prince Albert holds the record as the longest-serving Prince of Wales at 59 years, 1 month and 14 days. Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, will surpass this record in September 2017)

At the age of seven the Queen and Prince Albert were determined that Bertie should receive the proper education to prepare him in his future role as a British monarch.  Prince Albert set a very difficult educational plan to be implemented by Bertie’s tutors.  Unfortunately, Bertie proved to be a very poor student although he tried very hard to please both his mother and father by reaching their scholastic expectations.  In 1859, at the age of 18, Bertie went on a grand tour of Europe mainly studying the art and architecture of Rome before going to the University of Edinburgh for the summer.   He later went on to become an undergraduate at the Christ Church, Oxford and then transferred to Trinity College in Cambridge.  Bertie’s academic performance at college was much better than his education under his father direction and his attitude toward higher learning improved dramatically.

Prince Albert Edward - young

In 1860, his studies were interrupted briefly when he was sent to North America to represent the Queen on his first Royal tour as the heir to the British throne.  During the four month tour Bertie traveled to many parts of Canada and he visited the United States and went to Washington, D.C., nearby Mount Vernon and also New York City.  The tour was a great success and Bertie was praised by the media for his charming manner and his diplomatic skills which brought a new-found confidence and self-esteem to the nineteen year old Prince of Wales.

Prince Albert Edward - 1861

At this point in his life Bertie had received the reputation as a playboy carousing with women of questionable character, gambling and drinking.  All these activities upset both his parents and the Queen felt that the solution to quickly ending Bertie’s scandalous behavior was to find him a suitable wife with the hopes that it would force him to settle down.  Queen Victoria thought that she had found the perfect wife for Bertie; it was Princess Alexandra who was the eldest daughter of Prince Christian of Denmark.  On the recommendation of Bertie’s eldest sister, Princess Victoria, a meeting was quickly arranged to introduce them and Bertie was very impressed with Alexandra’s beauty, charming ways and mild manner. (For more information about the fashion style of the future Queen Alexandra, please click on the link)

Of course, the Queen was very wrong in thinking that the prospect of a wife and children would put a stop to Bertie’s wild ways!  When Bertie was sent to Ireland to continue his military training he became involved in a brief sexual relationship with a local actress.  Upon returning to Cambridge, word of his indiscretions reached the Queen and she sent her husband, Prince Albert, to have a serious talk with their son.  A short time later, Prince Albert became seriously ill and died in December 1861.  Wrongfully, the Queen claimed that the stress of dealing with Bertie’s affair weakened Prince Albert’s health and she unjustly blamed Bertie for the death of her beloved husband and she became lost in her grief and completely withdrew from public life.  (The initial cause of death was believed to be typhoid fever but recent historical evidence indicates that Prince Albert had been ill for at least two years and the probable cause of death was abdominal cancer).

On March 10, 1863 Prince Albert Edward and Princess Alexandra were married at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.  (For more detailed information about the wedding, please click on the link to British Royal Weddings – Part Two)

Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra 1863

The young couple moved to Marlborough House, their official London residence, and they also spent time at Sandringham, their country home in Norfolk.  Bertie and Alexandra had six children – Albert Victor, George (the future King George V), Louise, Victoria, Maud and Alexander John who died in infancy.  (For more information about the history of Sandringham, please click on the link)

Prince Albert Edward - his children

The couple entertained lavishly with elaborate balls and dinners in London and large weekend “house parties” at Sandringham where their guests enjoying horseback riding, fishing and hunting.  Despite the appearance of domesticity, Bertie continued his playboy lifestyle having numerous affairs with married women and he also enjoyed gambling at the horse races and private illegal card games.  Bertie also began to cultivate both British and International political alliances with prominent leaders while the Queen remained in seclusion obsessed with her grief and away from London for an extended period of time.  The Queen, always disapprovingly aware of Bertie’s indiscretions, tried to control him by not relinquishing any of her political power to him during the remainder of her long reign.  This situation did not go unnoticed by both the British government and the British public who absolutely adored the Prince of Wales.

Ultimately, upon the death of Queen Victoria on January 22, 1901, Bertie was crowned King Edward VII.  Due to an appendicitis and subsequent surgery, his coronation was postponed while he recovered.  The rescheduled coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on August 9, 1902.  The newly crowned King proved to be a popular monarch, he immediately sold Osborne House, refurbished the other Royal Palaces and reintroduced many of the traditional British ceremonies, such as the State Opening of Parliament, that the Queen had discontinued after the death of Prince Albert and her self-imposed removal from public life.  He also modernized the British Navy and reorganized the British Army.  Being related to many of the Kings and Queens of numerous European countries, King Edward became known as being just and fair in negotiating differences although he had a very difficult relationship with his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II.  During his brief reign, it was barely nine years, the Edwardian era at the turn of the century brought significant advancements in technology.  In the final year of his reign, King Edward was intent on solving a constitutional crisis which would ultimately be resolved after his death and would restrict the power of the House of Lords with the Parliament Act of 1911.

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra- coronation

King Edward smoked incessantly averaging numerous cigarettes and cigars each day for most of his adult life.  He developed an ulcer and later bronchitis and as his medical condition continued to deteriorate in his final days he suffered from several heart attacks.  King Edward died on May 6, 1910 at Buckingham Palace in London and he is buried at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Prince Alfred Earnest (later the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha)
born – August 6, 1844 at Windsor Castle, England
died – July 30, 1900 at Rosenau Castle near Coburg, Germany

Prince Alfred was the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, to his family he was known as Affie.  He was christened at Windsor Castle in the Private Chapel and became second in the British line of succession.  Alfred was tutored alongside his older brother, Albert Edward.  In 1856 his parents decided that he would join the Royal Navy, later he was promoted to lieutenant in 1863 and then captain in 1866.

Prince Alfred 1860

Upon the abdication of King Otto of Greece in 1863 the British government was influenced by the Queen to block the plans for Alfred to succeed him.  It seems that the Queen and Prince Albert wanted Alfred to eventually inherit the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg.  Meanwhile, Alfred position in the line of succession was pushed back further when his elder brother, Albert Edward, had a son.  Then, in May 1866, the Queen’s bestowed on Alfred the title of Duke of Edinburgh and a month later he was granted a seat in the House of Lords.

Prince Alfred

At the beginning of the year 1867, Alfred embarked on a Naval voyage aboard the HMS Galatea.  He left Plymouth in January, then Gibraltar in June, reaching Cape Town in July and finally landing in Australia in October.  This five month historical visit to Australia was the first by a member of the British Royal Family and Alfred received an enthusiastic welcome in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania.   On his return trip to England, Alfred stopped in New Zealand, Hawaii and Japan before continuing on to India.

On January 23, 1874, Prince Alfred married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia the daughter of Emperor Alexander II at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.  Alfred’s new wife, who was used to an elevated status in Russia, had a difficult time adjusting to the higher precedence of not only the Queen and her daughters but also the Princess of Wales.  After much fuss, the Queen denied Maria’s request for special treatment being the daughter of the Tsar but eventually she granted her precedence before her daughters but after the Princess of Wales.  Alfred and Maria had one son and four daughters – Alfred, Marie, Victoria, Alexandra and Beatrice.  

Prince Alfred - engagement photo

In regards to Alfred’s naval career, while stationed in Malta, he was promoted to rear-admiral in 1878, then vice-admiral and finally Commander-in Chief of the Channel Fleet in 1882 and the Mediterranean Fleet in 1886.  Finally in June 1893 Alfred was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet. 

Prince Alfred - in uniform

Upon the death of his uncle Ernest II, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, on August 22, 1893 Alfred inherited the duchy.  To accept the title, Alfred was required to relinquish his seats in the House of Lords and the Privy Council to avoid a conflict of interest.  He also was also denied his British allowance but he was allowed to keep the money used to maintain Clarence House, his London residence.

Sadly, although the people of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha came to accept a “foreign” ruler, Alfred did not hold the duchy long.  He died of throat cancer on July 30, 1900 at the Rosenau Castle and is buried at the ducal mausoleum in the Friedhof am Glockenberg in Coburg.  The duke’s only son had died a year earlier and the next in the succession, his nephew Prince Arthur of Connaught had previously renounce his right and Prince Charles Edward, the son of his brother Prince Leopold, inherited the title.  

Prince Arthur William (later Duke of Connaught and Strathearn)
born – May 1, 1850 at  Buckingham Palace, London, England
died –  January 16, 1942 at Bagshot Park in Surrey, England

Prince Arthur was the third son and seventh child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was christened in the Palace’s Private Chapel and it has been reported that he was the Queen’s favorite son.  Like his other siblings, Arthur received his education for private tutors until he was 16 years old.  In 1874 the Queen, much like she had previously done with her other children, bestowed an honorary title on Arthur and he became the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn and the Earl of Sussex.   

Prince Arthur 1864

Arthur was enrolled for military service and he was sent to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1866.  After two years Arthur graduated and received a commission as a lieutenant in the Corps of Royal Engineers.  Then in 1869 Arthur transferred to the Royal Artillery Regiment and had a long career in the Army serving in South Africa and Canada in 1869, Egypt in 1882 and India in 1886.

Prince Arthur - in uniform

Meanwhile, in regards to his personal life, Arthur married Princess Louise of Prussia at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Chapel on March 13, 1879.  Louise was the great-niece of the German Emperor Wilhelm I who was not only Arthur’s cousin but also his godfather.  The couple had three children – Margaret, Arthur and Patricia.  They had a London residence at Clarence House and a country home of Bagshot Park in Surrey.

Prince Arthur - wedding to Alexandra Fife  Prince Arthur - children

During Arthur’s time in Canada he had attended state functions and social events leaving a very favorable impression and he became extremely popular with the Canadian people.  Then, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister Asquith, he was appointed by his nephew, now King George V, as the Governor General of Canada in 1911 and served until 1916.  His wife and children moved from England to be with him in Canada during the length of this service.

Prince Arthur - govenor general of Canada

When Arthur returned to England he continued his military career, briefing serving in both World War I and II.  He also represented the King and his country by continuing to perform his royal duties and he served as president of the Boy Scouts Association which had officially formed in 1910.  Princess Louise died in March 1917 of influenza and bronchitis, she was the first member of the British Royal Family to be cremated and her ashes were buried at Frogmore.  Her husband, Arthur, survived her by almost twenty-five years and he died on January 16, 1942 at Bagshot Park and he is also buried at Frogmore.

Prince Leopold George (later the Duke of Albany)
born – April 7, 1853 at Buckingham Palace, London, England
died – March 28, 1884 in Cannes, France

Prince Leopold was the fourth son and the eighth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; he was given the name in honor of King Leopold I of Belgium who was the uncle to both his parents (remember that the Queen and her husband were first cousins).  The birth of Leopold was different than the labor she experienced with her other children; it was the first time that chloroform was used as an anesthesia for a royal birth.

Unfortunately, this was not the only medical condition that was to affect Leopold’s life.  As a young child he was diagnosed with hemophilia, a hereditary genetic disorder that impairs the human body’s ability to control blood clotting.  As a result of his disease, it was decided by his parents that Leopold would be under constant watch and that his physical activities would be severely restricted.  (Historical Fact:  The hemophilia disease has been traced back to Leopold’s mother, Queen Victoria.  Besides affecting not only her son, she unknowingly passed the disease onto future generations through her daughters, Alice and Beatrice, children eventually affecting several of members of the Royal families of Spain, Germany and Russia)

Prince Leopold - young

Despite his health problems, Leopold proved to be a good student studying under with private tutors appointed by Prince Albert.  In 1872, Leopold was enrolled at Christ Church in Oxford and through his interest in the game of chess became the president of the Oxford Chess Club.  While at university, Leopold was initiated into the local Freemason lodge in Oxford after being recommended for membership by his older brother, Prince Albert Edward.  After leaving university with an honorary doctorate in civil law, he spent time traveling in Europe and then Canada.   In 1881, the Queen bestowed on him the tile of Duke of Albany, Earl of Clarence and Baron Arklow.

As a young man, Leopold was upset about not being able to pursue an active military career like his brothers because of the risk of injury would cause him to bleed uncontrollably.  The Queen, who was constantly worried about her son’s health, eventually allowed Leopold to receive an honorary position as the Colonel-in-Chief of the Albany Highlanders 72nd Regiment which later combined with the Seaforth 78th Regiment.

Prince Leopold - in uniform

In regards to Leopold’s personal life, unlike her other children, Queen Victoria did not pursue arranging a marriage for her son because the life expectancy of someone with hemophilia was rarely beyond childhood.  Leopold did consider several women as possible brides, one of those was Alice Liddell (it was said that a friend of her family, Lewis Carroll used her as the inspiration for his classic novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”).  Eventually, Leopold married Princess Helene Friederike on April 27, 1882 at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  The couple had a truly happy marriage and soon became parents to a daughter, Alice.

Prince Leopold and his wife  Prince Leopold - with his child

Then, while his wife was expecting their second child, Leopold went to Cannes to recover from severe joint pain brought on by his hemophilia which the harsh winter in England exacerbated while Helene stayed at home.  Unfortunately, during his time in Cannes Leopold fell hitting his head and injuring his knee.  He died the next morning from a possible cerebral hemorrhage and his body was returned to England and he is buried in the Albert memorial Chapel at Windsor.  Helene gave birth four months later to a son named Charles Edward.  (Historical Fact: Since the hemophilia gene is carried on the X chromosome and passed through a female, Leopold’s daughter Alice inherited the gene and her oldest son, Rupert, had hemophilia)

Prince Leopold children 1


The Vanderbilt Costume Ball

On this day back on March 26, 1883 the grand and rather fancy Vanderbilt Costume Ball took place.  Prior to the ball, the social life of New York City was dominated by one woman … Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.  At that time Mrs. Astor determined which members were allowed into the exclusive upper class society of New York.   Then, after the Civil War and the subsequent Industrial Revolution, many of the nouveau rich shipping and railroad owners accumulated fortunes that surpassed those of the previously established “old money” families.  A result of these changes in society, Mrs. Astor and her social secretary Ward McAllister created a list of four hundred people that were considered acceptable members of New York’s high society.

Cornelius Vanderbilt, an ambitious entrepreneur, was one the nouveau rich but he was considered too crass to be allowed into the exclusive “List of 400”.  His grandson who eventually oversaw the family railroad investments was William Vanderbilt married Alva Smith, the daughter of a Southern cotton merchant, on April 20, 1875 in New York City.  The prosperous Smith family had moved from Alabama to New York in 1857.  Then during the Civil War, the Smith family moved to England where Mr. Smith continued to run his business while Mrs. Smith and her daughters moved to Paris, France where Alva attended a private boarding school.  After the Civil War the family returned to New York and Alva eventually meet and married William Vanderbilt, they had three children.  (Interesting Fact:  Alva famously arranged the marriage of her only daughter, Consuelo, to Charles Spencer-Churchill the 9th Duke of Marlborough.  At that time, the Churchill ancestral home of Blenheim Palace was in dire need of repairs and it was the large inheritance of Consuelo that funded the restoration.  Sadly it was a loveless marriage and eventually Consuelo divorced Churchill and remarried)

It was during the period known as the Gilded Age of New York society, a name given because of the opulent lifestyle of the nouveau rich, in which William and Alva Vanderbilt decided to build their large mansion in New York City.  The “Petit Chateau” was built between 1878 and 1882; it was located on Fifth Avenue and took up the entire city block between 51st and 52nd Streets.  The socially ambitious Alva was determined to mark her mark on New York society and the architect, Richard Morris Hunt, was commissioned to create the French Renaissance inspired building.  Due to the fact that Alva had gone to boarding school in France, she had developed a passion for French architecture, design and decorations.  Alva collaborated with Hunt to design the three and a half story mansion in a blend of French Gothic style architecture with Beaux Art elements.  The intricate and asymmetrical façade of the building was built with gray Indiana limestone topped by a roof made of blue-gray slate tiles trimmed with copper.  The grand entrance to the home was located on Fifth Avenue, after entering into a vestibule visitors would precede into the 60 foot long Grand Hall featuring Caen stone accented with carved wood decorations.  All the rooms on the first floor were accessed from the Grand Hall, located on the right side of the Grand Hall was a massive Caen stone staircase leading to the second floor and to the left side was a large and elaborately carved fireplace.  The largest and most impressive of the house was the 50 by 35 feet two-story high Gothic-styled Banquet Hall featuring 7 foot high oak wainscoting topped with Caen stone walls.  A massive double fireplace intricately carved by Kart Bitter in oak with marble caryatids (sculpted female figures which serve as an architectural support) was located on one end of the room and on the opposite end there was an area known as the musician’s gallery, the room also featured large stained glass windows by Eugene Oudinot.  (Interest Fact: Years later, the Vanderbilt Mansion was sold to real-estate developer Benjamin Winter, Sr. in 1926 and it was demolished and replaced by a commercial building which currently occupies the location known as 666 Fifth Avenue)

Vanderbilt mansion

Alva Vanderbilt was very frustrated that, although she and her husband were among the richest members of the Gilded Age, they were not fully accepted into the exclusive New York high society ruled by the powerful Mrs. Astor, Alva had yet to be formerly recognized by Mrs. Astor.  Alva had children that she wished to see make successful marriages and she needed to do something drastic to break into the elite “List of 400”.  Inspired by the completion of the Vanderbilt mansion and hoping to gain social acceptance, Alva decided to hold a fancy Costume Ball as an official housewarming party.  This European type of entertainment of a fancy dressed ball were guests wore elaborate costumes based on a variety of historical characters had recently become very popular in the United States during the Gilded Age.  The story goes that to force Mrs. Astor to formally acknowledge the Vanderbilt family, Alva refused to send her an invitation.  Alva put on further pressure by inviting the journalists from the local New York papers to preview the house and the elaborate decorations but still the poor daughter of Mrs. Astor was still anxiously waiting to be invited to one of the biggest events of the season.  Per the current social customs of the time, Alva claimed that she could not extend the invitation due to the fact that Mrs. Astor had never called on the Vanderbilt home.  Eventually, Mrs. Astor had no choice but to relent and she dropped her formal calling card at the Vanderbilts, thereby officially recognizing them into New York society.  The very next day Mrs. Astor and her daughter received their invitation!

Alva Vanderbilt was very frustrated that, although she and her husband were among the richest members of the Gilded Age, they were not fully accepted into the exclusive New York high society ruled by the powerful Mrs. Astor, Alva had yet to be formerly recognized by Mrs. Astor.  Alva had children that she wished to see make successful marriages and she needed to do something drastic to break into the elite “List of 400”.  Inspired by the completion of the Vanderbilt mansion and hoping to gain social acceptance, Alva decided to hold a fancy Costume Ball as an official housewarming party.  This European type of entertainment of a fancy dressed ball were guests wore elaborate costumes based on a variety of historical characters had recently become very popular in the United States during the Gilded Age.  The story goes that to force Mrs. Astor to formally acknowledge the Vanderbilt family, Alva refused to send her an invitation.  Alva put on further pressure by inviting the journalists from the local New York papers to preview the house and the elaborate decorations but still the poor daughter of Mrs. Astor was still anxiously waiting to be invited to one of the biggest events of the season.  Per the current social customs of the time, Alva claimed that she could not extend the invitation due to the fact that Mrs. Astor had never called on the Vanderbilt home.  Eventually, Mrs. Astor had no choice but to relent and she dropped her formal calling card at the Vanderbilts, thereby officially recognizing them into New York society.  The very next day Mrs. Astor and her daughter received their invitation!

So, finally the night of March 26th arrived and everything was set for the Vanderbilt Costume Ball.  The guests had costumes custom-made or rented from the local New York stores or specially delivered from European designers.  The young ladies had rehearsed the intricate quadrilles for several weeks.  The party decorations had been carefully planned and the workers had spent several hours setting everything up in the Vanderbilt home.  An awning had been placed over the entrance on Fifth Avenue and the rooms on the first floor were decorated with gilded vases filled with a colorful variety of roses and greenery.  On the second floor a spacious room had been transformed into an indoor tropical garden decorated with potted palms, ferns, bougainvillea vines that soared to the height of the dome ceiling and also an abundance of orchids that seemed to be fill the space which was illuminated by strings of Japanese-style lanterns.

Vanderbilt Costume Ball 1Vanderbilt Costume Ball 2

Shortly before the official start of the party, numerous police officers were called to the residence to control the crowds of people gathered to catch a glimpse of the costumed guests which would be arriving in their grand carriages.  By eleven o’clock most of the guests had made their way into the Vanderbilt home and the festivities began with the serving of a sumptuous meal and beverages.  Then several quadrilles were to be performed that evening starting with the “Mother Goose quadrille, followed by the “Hobby Horse, then the “Opera Bouffe” and finally the “Dresden” quadrille.  All the performers wore costumes corresponding to the theme of their specific dance.

Thanks to the images taken by the Cuban-born photographer, Jose Mora, which are held by the Museum of the City of New York, his vast portrait collection shows us what the costumed guests of the Vanderbilt Ball wore on that special night back in 1883.  In 1870 Mora had opened his own studio and quickly became the preferred photographer of the elite upper class of New York City.  His elaborate props and beautiful backdrops by painter Lafayette Seavey provided the perfect setting for Mora’s wonderful photographs that captured the fancy dressed parties of the Gilded Age.  (Interesting Fact:  In 1893, Mora without any explanation closed his studio.  For the next 30 years, Mora had seemingly disappeared and it wasn’t until 1911 that he was found living a life of poverty as a recluse in a local hotel.  Strangely when he died a few months later, after being declared incompetent and confined to a hospital, his bank account had $200,000)

The first of Mora photographs shown below is of Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt, the hostess of the party.  She is dressed in the costume of a Venetian Princess and the white and yellow brocade dress had a square neckline features embroidered flowers and leaves accented with gold, white and iridescent beads, the full long sleeves of the dress were made of transparent gold fabric, while the light blue satin train lined with red fabric was trimmed with golden embroidery was gathered to one side and at the waist there was a sash of blue satin also embellished with golden embroidery.  On her head, Alva wore a Venetian-style cap covered with beautiful jewels with a large center piece resembling a peacock decorated with more colorful jewels.  Not seen is Mr. William K. Vanderbilt, the host of the party.  Mr. Vanderbilt was dressed as the Duke de Guise and he is wore yellow silk tights with yellow and black trunks, a yellow doublet and a black velvet cloak embroidered in gold thread with the Order of St. Michael medal pinned on the front.  To complete the costume he wore a white wig and black velvet shoes with gold buckles. 

Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt

The next photograph shows Mrs. Alice Vanderbilt, the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt, dressed as the “Electric Light”, at the time Edison’s invention of the light bulb had recently been developed.  The magnificent dress was designed by Charles Worth and was made a gold satin with a dark blue velvet underskirt, a bustle was formed in the back of the dress.  The entire dress was accented with golden thread embroidery and gold beading used to create lightning bolts and starburst shapes.  The dress was also featured shoulder embellishments of gold metallic tinsel and beaded tassels with golden fringe at the neckline and golden tulle attached at the shoulders that flowed down the back of the dress.  The dress cleverly featured hidden batteries so that Alice would be able to switch on to light up the dress like an electric light bulb.  (For more information on Charles Worth and the House of Worth, please click on the link)  Also shown in the photograph is Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt, the brother of the host, dressed as King Louis XVI, his jacket is trimmed with real silver lace, he wears a shirt with a jabot and lace ruffles and his pants are made of ivory brocade embellished with silver trim.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II

Russian Imperial Jewels

Previously on this blog, there have been numerous posts regarding the British Royal Family including posts about the Queen’s Jewelry Collection and the Cambridge Jewels.  In 1921 Queen Mary acquired a diamond and pearl tiara now known as the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara which was originally smuggled out of Russia by a British diplomat during the 1917 Revolution.  The Vladimir Tiara, now in the personal jewelry collection of Queen Elizabeth II, is one example of many Russian Imperial Jewels that survived after the Russian Revolution.  Unfortunately, many other items belonging to the Russian Imperial Family mysteriously vanished and have been lost.  In this post, I will discuss many of the Russian Imperial Jewels by giving individual descriptions and a brief history of each item and indicate which ones still exist either in a private collections or held in museums.

1925 Russian Imperial Crown Jewels

Russian Imperial Regalia

Imperial Crown of Russia

The Great Imperial Crown was first used for the coronation of Catherine II in September 1762 in Moscow and the last time it was used was for the coronation of Nicholas II in May 1896 in the Uspensky Cathedral inside the Kremlin.  The crown was designed by Jeremie Pauzie and the design was inspired by the Byzantine Empire.  It was created as two gold and silver half spheres divided with a floral garland which represented the joining of the Eastern and Western Roman empires.  The crown has 75 pearls and almost 5,000 diamonds which form laurel and oak leaves which symbolically represent power and strength.  At the top is a cross of five diamonds, representing the Christian faith of the Sovereign, the God-given power of the monarchy and the supremacy of the divine order over earthly power, set above an almost 400 carat red spinel.   The spinel (sometimes confused and difficult to distinguish from a ruby, this gemstone made of a hard glassy mineral usually formed as octahedral crystals) was originally brought from China to Russia by Nicholas Spafary, a Russian envoy, approximately in 1676.  Several centuries later the Great Imperial Crown made it out of Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917.  It was then temporary held in Ireland and ultimately was returned to Russia and can currently be seen display at the Kremlin Armory in Moscow.

Russian imperial crown

Russian Imperial Orb

Russian Imperial Orb was created for the coronation of Catherine II by the Russian court jeweler, Georg-Fredrik Ekart.  The gold orb is a polished hollow sphere encircled with a row of diamonds, then topped with an oval 47 carat sapphire surrounded by diamond and a gold cross with more diamonds.  The Russian Imperial Orb is on display at the Kremlin Armory in Moscow.


Russian Imperial Sceptre / Orlov Diamond

The Russian Imperial Sceptre was originally made for the coronation of Catherine II.  Set into the sceptre is the famous Orlov diamond which is surrounded by a row of smaller diamonds, above the gemstone is a small shield with double-headed eagle with the Arms of Russia enameled on its breast   The Orlov diamond measures almost 190 carats and is about 2 inches in height, I.25 inches in width and 1.25 inches in length.  The diamond was originally thought to be from India as determined by the clarity and the slightly blue-green color of the gemstone.  The oval dome front surface is cut with rows of triangular-shaped facets and the relatively flat bottom is cut with square-shape facets, for a total number approximately 180 facets.  The Orlov diamond can be seen on display at the Kremlin Armory in Moscow.  (Interesting Note: Legend has it when the Emperor Napoleon of France and his invading military forces were nearing the city of Moscow during 1812, to protect the Orlov diamond from being found and taken back to France, it was hidden inside the tomb of a priest buried within the Kremlin.  Upon entering the city, Napoleon gave the orders to find the massive gemstone.  When the location of the Orlov diamond was found Napoleon insisted that he should personally be present to take possession of it.  As one of Napoleon’s officers reached into the tomb to pick up the diamond, the spirit of the dead priest prevented them for taking it.  Needless to say, empty-handed and probably running in fear, Napoleon and the officers left the Kremlin without the Orlov diamond!)


Russian Imperial Nuptial Jewels

The brides of the Russian Imperial family have traditionally worn several pieces of jewelry at their weddings, such as the Russian Nuptial Tiara and Crown (yes, the brides wore both!).  Other items included the Russian Nuptial Necklace and Earrings and the large Russian Nuptial Brooch that was used to fasten the ermine robes worn by the bride at the wedding ceremony.  Several of the jewels became lost after the revolution and others are held in museums, such as the Nuptial Crown which is on display at the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Nuptial Tiara is at the Kremlin Armory in Moscow, Russia.     

Russian Nuptial Tiara

The Russian Nuptial Tiara has been worn by the Russian Imperial brides, including tsarinas and grand duchesses throughout the centuries.  The large diamond tiara was created around 1800 by Jacob David Duval, a St. Petersburg jeweler, for Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna.  The largest stone set in the centered in the lower portion of the tiara is a remarkable 13 carat pink diamond; in addition there is a row of briolette diamonds topped by diamond uprights.  Surprisingly, the tiara survived the Russian Revolution and is now displayed at the Kremlin Armory in Moscow.


This photo is a portion of the portrait by Laurits Tuxen of the 1894 wedding of Emperor Nicholas II and Princess Alexandra, the princess is seen wearing both the Russian Nuptial Tiara and Crown. 

Wedding of  Princess Alexandra and Emperor Nicholas II a

Russian Nuptial Crown

As part of the Eastern Orthodox Holy Matrimony, not only are rings exchanged as part of the ceremony, crowns are also placed on the heads of both the bride and groom.  The Russian Nuptial Crown was made around 1844, possibly by Nichols and Plincke jewelers.  There are 320 large diamond weighing approximately 182 carats and 1,200 smaller diamonds totally 80 carats; it is thought that most of the diamonds were previously used to embellish the clothing of Catherine II.  The diamonds are set in silver and mounted onto a crimson red velvet crown.  At a specific point in the wedding ceremony, the Nuptial Crown is placed behind the Nuptial Tiara. 


During and after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks sold many of the Imperial Royal Family’s Jewels although some were secretly smuggled out of Russia possibly hidden in clothing or transported by way of couriers into other countries.  Records indicate that the Nuptial Crown was sold by Christie’s Auction House in 1927.  It was acquired by Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American businesswoman and heiress of the Post Cereal Company which she expanded into General Foods.  In the 1930s, when her husband was the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union she continued collecting Imperial art and artifacts and eventually her collections was given to the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

Russian Rivère Diamond Necklace and Earrings

In addition to the Russian Imperial Tiara and Crown, the Romanov brides would wear other stunning diamond jewelry.  The Russian Rivère Diamond Necklace was a set of large diamonds and even more pear-shaped diamond drops that weighed a total of 475 carats; the necklace was once part of the Russian Imperial Crown Jewels.  During the time of the Russian Revolution the necklace was sold to an unknown buyer and has since mysteriously disappeared.  The matching earrings were originally commissioned by Catherine II and are large Brazilian diamonds are set in gold and silver and styled as cherries and stems.  The earrings are so heavy to wear that a special support wire was fashioned to be worn wrapped behind and over the ears; unfortunately the wire would frequently cut into the bride’s ears.

The Imperial rivière necklace  romanovnuptualearrings

Imperial Mantle Clasp

Over the wedding gown, the bride would wear the Imperial Mantle made of embroidered golden fabric edged with ermine; the mantle was also worn for coronations.  To fasten the mantle a magnificent clasp was used and it was set with diamonds of various sizes and shapes, it measured approximately 8 inches across.


Shown below in the photo is the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna on the occasion to her 1908 wedding to Prince William, the Duke of Sodermanland who was the second son of King Gustav V of Sweden.  She is wearing the complete set of Imperial Nuptial Jewelry including the Russian Rivère Diamond Necklace and Earrings and the Imperial Mantle Clasp.

Russian wedding jewelry - Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna

Other Russian Imperial Jewelry

Russian Aquamarine Kokoshnik Tiara

The Russian Aquamarine Kokoshnik Tiara was said to be once owned by the last tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna, married to Nicholas II of Russia.  The tiara was created around 1900 and it is styled in a kokoshnik (a traditional Russian headdress) shape.  The tiara has line and arches of diamonds and also features 16 graduated rectangular aquamarine stones set in platinum.  Shortly after the Russian Revolution the tiara was bought by Morris Wartski, an antique dealer based in England that specialized in Russian jewelry and artwork.  Over the years, the tiara has sold several times through auction houses such as Stotheby’s and Christie’s.  At the present time, the owner of the Russian Aquamarine Kokoshnik Tiara is unknown.

Russian Aquamarine Kokoshnik Tiara

Imperial Russian Bow Necklace

The Imperial Russian Bow Necklace is a beautifully designed fully articulated (sections connected by flexible joints) necklace.  In an open setting made entirely in silver, the necklace features a row of twenty-seven cushion-cut graduated-sized diamonds.  Bordering the large diamonds are two additional rows of smaller diamonds and finished with a diamond bow clasp.

Russian Imperial Bow Necklace - front

Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik Tiara

The Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik Tiara was originally made in 1841 by the court jeweler Bolin for Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I.  The kokoshnik styled tiara features twenty-five large pearl pendants which hang from diamond arches attached to a diamond base.

After the Russian Revolution, the tiara was sold by Christie’s auction house in 1927 to the Holmes & Company Jewelers.  Later the tiara was bought by the Duke of Marlbourough for his wife Gladys.  After her death it was sold once again at auction in 1978 and was eventually bought by Imelda Marcos, the wife of Ferdinand Marcos who was the President of the Philippines.  It was said that the tiara was purchased under dubious circumstances possibly using state funds and after the disgraced couple fled their remaining possessions were confiscated including Imelda’s excessive quantities of jewels and shoes (remember that infamous massive shoe collection).  The Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik Tiara now reportedly sits in a bank vault in the Philippines.

Empress Maria Fedorovna diadem

This post discusses just a small portion of the Russian Imperial Crown Jewels.  If interested in more information regarding other Romanov Jewels, please click on two posts about the House of Fabergé and Fabergé Eggs.  The first post gives a brief history of the Fabergé company started by Peter Carl Fabergé.  The second post gives information about the beautiful jeweled 54 Imperial Eggs that Fabergé created for the Russian Tsar Alexander III and later his son Tsar Nicholas II between 1885 and 1917.